My Evolution In Sharpening My Tools: Evolution #5-6.

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Robert Sfeir
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Hand Cutting Dovetails

Evolution #5: Re-Introducing the strop.

I decide it is time for me to stop resisting the strop, and learn to use it right. Sharpening through a completely unnecessary number of stones to get sharp, and diamond paste makes re-adding the strop a clear option.

Learning to use the strop properly is the key to getting good results. The mistake I make is to apply a ton of pressure on the iron and into the strop, which isn’t necessary, passing the edge of the tool 30+ times on the strop. There are countless videos showing people doing that, so clearly it must be the right thing to do. It is very laborious but is still faster than going back to the jig to sharpen on the diamond paste, because I am doing this work freehanded.

This approach works, and am able to keep working while stropping, though over time the edge just isn’t as sharp, or doesn’t stay as sharp with continuous stropping. I notice a difference over time when I chop away the waste of the back wall of dovetails. Some folks get different results and can keep stropping til the cows come home somehow, but not me.

My sequence to this point is to keep stropping until the tool no longer feels right, go back to the diamond stone plus diamond paste sequence, then strop and work.

I clearly need to simplify my life here. I start believing that sharpening shouldn’t be this complex. After all, I get good results from all of the previous approaches; I get to sharp every single time, and the tool performs really well. It almost doesn’t matter which approach and stone combination I use, the tools are sharp. I am clearly making things much more complex than is necessary.

Evolution #6: Swapping Diamond Paste For A True Arkansas Oil Stone.

While reading blogs and discussing my sharpening adventures with woodworking friends, someone pointed me to another Schwartz article on oil stones. The article was simple enough to understand and got me thinking: Oil stones don’t use water. They’re pretty hard and only rarely need to be made flat. They give an amazing edge. They’ve been in use for 100’s of years. Clearly, someone knew something the rest of us mere mortals new to woodworking don’t know or understand about these stones.

While researching, reading and watching videos I am reminded of an English Woodworker video on sharpening involving oil stones and freehand techniques. Oy! Another sharpening video and method. A friend encourages me to give it and look. Maguire’s approach is simple, rooted in tradition, and gimmick-free.

His video series is enlightening, and right there the simplest way to sharpen is revealed. It involves a two-sided stone, a strop, and one DMT lapping plate to reset the iron’s bevel. There is no mess, fuss or jigs.

Yes, it is highly likely I’ve seen a simple approach before, Maguire is clearly not the only one, but for whatever reason, it didn’t really click, and Maguire’s did.

Hello, Oil Stones.

Into the next sinkhole, I go! I invest in a Black Arkansas oil stone from Dan’s Whetsones – I can’t speak for other stone makers here, I followed Schwartz’s recommendation. I sell all my water stones, I’m done with that mess, and that covers the cost of the Black Arkansas 8×3″ oil stone.

When I get the stone, I stick to my base sharpening technique before diving into Maguire’s. This time though I go from the extra-fine diamond to the oil stone, skipping the xx-fine diamond, to the strop, and I still use the jig. The difference here is a bur and shiny edge forming off the oil stone in a mere 5-6 strokes. I am shocked!

That stone cuts the Lie-Nielsen irons without any problem. I hit the strop and go to work. I am now at the simplest approach to sharpening yet, and I get back to work quickly. Not only that, but I also notice that I don’t have to strop as often. Somehow the blade’s edge off the oil stone is holding up better. I don’t know why. I’m not a scientist, nor do I run specific experiments to prove it. I just know that I work with fewer interruptions caused by a dull tool.

Some things to keep in mind.

I should note here that Maguire says that oil stones don’t work on modern irons. He’s probably right that in most cases they don’t because of the stones themselves. In the case of Dan’s Water Stones’ True Arkansas Oil Stones, it’s different. The quality of the stone is such that they work very effectively on modern irons. Again, I didn’t try it on the exotic PMV-11 iron from Veritas, nor do I care to, so you’ll have to find out for yourself (or not).

What is left in this evolution? The water spray on the diamond stone, and the fact that diamond stones wear unevenly still, and hence cut differently across the surface of the plate over time. Yes, be careful to use the whole surface properly. I know, and that is a fact for all stones.

Read The Final Frontier

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